A Beginner's Guide to Presence Detection

One of the most difficult aspects of home automation to do correctly is Presence. However, it’s also one of the most useful. Knowing if your home is occupied allows your automation to do things like turn off all the lights, turn down the heat or a/c, or even activate an alarm system when you leave. These obvious use-cases make setting up presence detection a must-have for most smart homes; but unfortunately, this is incredibly easy to get wrong. Flaky detection methods coupled with the natural complications caused by the normal comings and goings of a multi-person house can yield unpredictable behavior and trigger light, sirens, and tempers unexpectedly (see Getting Automation Right).

Wifi Coverage for Beginners

A common question I get is how to get the best wifi coverage throughout a house. Even if you use Z-Wave and Zigbee extensively, you’re still going to have smart devices that require wifi. Thermostats, cameras, video doorbells can make extensive use of wifi and benefit from strong coverage that blankets every inch of your home. Smart TVs, smart assistants, laptops, and smartphones will need good, fast wifi signals as well. There a 3 main options to get great wifi and whether any of them is right for you depends on your technical prowess, budget, and willingness (or ability) to run wires through your walls.

Deal: Ring Pro + Echo Dot for $169

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware that Amazon is having a huge sale for Prime members starting July 15th. However, what you might not know, is that they've been lowering prices on various items over the last few days as a lead up the main event. Today, you can get the Ring Pro video doorbell and an Echo Dot for $169, the lowest price ever for this bundle.

You can read about why we recommend the Ring Pro here (especially for Alexa users).

A Beginner's Guide to Automation: Getting Automation Right

Last time, we talked about the different levels of automation. To recap: Level 1 is a simple “if this happens then do that” process. Level 2 adds fixed conditions such as the day of the week or time of the day. Level 3 introduces the concept of modes which are essentially shortcuts to represent other actions or automations and allows you to constrain your automation to certain modes. Finally, Level 4 automations are complex, allowing an arbitrary number of conditions and if statements to be chained together. The automation level provided by Alexa and Google Assistant is Level 2 with basic day and time conditions. This week we’ll discuss why Level 2 is not enough for most multi-person households. We’ll also go through some strategies to help ensure the automations you create are as reliable as possible.

A Beginner's Guide to Automation: What is Automation?

By now, you’ve installed all the various devices in our home. You can whip out your phone to change the temperature on your thermostat, turn on the lights, see who is at the door, close the blinds, and make sure the door is locked with the greatest of ease. Congratulations, you have a connected home! The next step is to start turning your connected home into a smart home. If the hub is the brain of your home, then (at the risk of taking the analogy too far), your home’s “thoughts” are automations.

An automation can have one of several different degrees of complexity. The level of complexity you require typically informs that class of device you need. I’ve grouped these complexity levels into 4 major categories. We’ll start with the simplest category, discuss an example, and then build on it through the increasing levels.

Assistance with Assistants

Throughout the Silicon Age, there have been countless religious wars of varying degrees of intensity and nerdiness. Mac vs PC, Nintendo vs Sega, Playstation vs Xbox, NT vs Netware, iPhone vs Android, and tabs vs spaces. Home automation is no different and although we have (and will do so again in the future) discussed Home Assistant vs SmartThings and Z-Wave vs wifi, this week we will talk about the digital assistants that sit in our houses waiting at our beck and call: Alexa and Google Assistant (and Siri).

A Beginner's Guide to Smart Bulbs

Last week we discussed the various options available for replacing your light switches. Another way to smarten up your home’s lighting is with smart bulbs. These are light bulbs that are controllable via your all-purpose hub or a dedicated bridge via an app or automations. Smart bulbs have several advantages and disadvantages over smart switches which means they might have a place in your home, even if you’ve installed switches!

Let’s talk about some of the pros of using smart bulbs: